High concept is something I repeated say I, and other people in the industry, am looking for. But what is it?
My succinct definition is highly unique concept with mass-market appeal. This also relates back to my post last week on agents and editors not knowing what they want until they see it. I, as an agent, do not do the creative portion of the job. The high concept book is one that revels in creativity and that ‘specialness’ that will bring the mass-market together in a way that we as readers didn’t know before. I don’t know I want it because you, the writer, haven’t written it yet. [If you have, send it over ; )]
What are the high concept key ingredients?
- The premise is often bigger than the characters.
- You can easily explain it in an exciting two line pitch.
- The short pitch will raise eyebrows and immediately attract attention.
- High concept isn’t just a ‘big book’, it’s a big book that is based on premise.
- It can be controversial.
- It can have a big twist.
- It is something that seems so obvious and straightforward, but no one has thought of it before.
- High concept is usually commercial-literary, while ‘big books’ are commercial.
- The idea and themes are universal.
The trajectory of a high concept book looks like this: an agent sees it and must have it, knowing it is something special; the agent is easily able to write a great pitch letter to editors based on a short, succinct and very intriguing hook; once the book has an editor the editor is able to garner in-house attention through early excitement; sales staff are then able to impress booksellers with a book that will stand out and sell copies; the book is then stocked with front of store placement; and finally customers do the rest! The marketing and publicity opportunities for high concept are plentiful. And, simple and very intriguing hooks are what attract Hollywood attention.
Does my novel have to be high concept?
As many have said before me, every book doesn’t have to be a high concept blockbuster. There are genres and markets that don’t require high concept fiction to make it successful; however, in a highly competitive market where publishers are making their lists lean and mean they are often looking for high concept so projects can stand out.
Examples of high concept
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Village, the movie by M. Night Shyamalan
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Spork by Kyo Maclear
Cowboys and Aliens, the movie directed by Jon Favreau
How do you know if you are writing high concept?
The above bullet point notes should help, but you’ll know it is high concept if it’s something that you are taking a chance on, something you are creating that’s never been done, you are writing non-linearly, and if you have created something new while tackling timeless universal emotions and dilemmas.
It’s an enormous undertaking and the thought can overwhelm writers, but publishing isn’t merely about getting an agent and an editor. The goal is to have a novel stand out and be successful. The goal is to earn out your advance and gain royalties. Don’t hope for mid-list, hope–and write–for a breakout book that is going to tap into human emotions that cross territorial boundaries and provide a great reading entertainment experience.
Q: What books do you define as high concept?
[Image via Sheknows]